After 10 years away, artist Michael Joplin is back, with a new take on glass, a shared space with his wife, landscape architect Margaret Joplin, and a surprising new business that celebrates his late sister.
Michael and Margaret Joplin show off their new studio space like two bright young college grads. They’re rejuvenated, excited, and with new direction. After 31 years of marriage, this is the first time they’ve shared space. And they’re now sharing a medium too. For both of them, glass is a love and a living.
Margaret highlights the elaborate line of glass beads she’s been developing, and describes the laborious process involved in making them (there’s a slow cooker and a camp stove, clay and lots of molds).
Michael talks us through the even more labor-intensive technique behind his new glass art: blown platters that carry 1940s pin-up-style images achieved through painting, sandblasting and gradual removal of the paint.
Next month he’ll share a show at the gallery of his old friend Tom Philabaum, with fellow glass artist Mark Abildgaard. It’s a significant move for someone who took a 10-year sabbatical from the art world. “I got really sick of art. I lost any kind of reason behind the art,” he says. So he played a lot of golf, got involved in two touring theater productions about his late sister Janis and, oh yes, launched a clothing line.
The move into fashion began as a discussion with the Joplins’ eldest daughter Malyn, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. “Let’s bring out a line of purses,” they said. Before long they were studying bolts and fasteners, zippers and handles. Michael says he was realizing that it’s all very well wanting to produce beautiful-looking purses, but it’s a long, meticulous process. “You want them to be great-looking things and they look like turds on your shoulder,” he laughs.
But both Michael and Margaret are more than happy with the hand-made purses and Janis-inspired boho chic clothing pieces launched last week. They include stretch cotton lace clothes, and tie-dye leather handbags with linings made of hand-dyed silk.
The collection is called Made for Pearl, after Janis Joplin’s nickname (she’d use the name Pearl to book herself into hotels anonymously), and of course after her posthumous record Pearl, which reached number one on the Billboard charts and went quadruple platinum. Months earlier she lost her life to a drug overdose in 1970, aged just 27.
Michael Joplin will forever be linked to one of America’s rock icons, thanks to a last name that’s less than common. Asked whether the name holds him back, he says: “It used to. I would never sign my last name for a long time. I’m trying to make art.”
Today, they are proudly putting that name behind the large central Tucson space they’re leasing, one big enough for each to have an office, studio space, and room for Margaret’s various endeavours: her landscape architecture firm Design Collaborations; Pure Beauty, a retail space featuring everything from botanical prints to salvaged metal, to glass; and Bellus Lux, those glass creations created by an ancient method called lost wax.
In her landscape architecture work she uses salvaged metal. Her studio space is full of metal off-cuts, many of them the ‘negative’ panels left over after pieces of metal have been punched out of them.
Several years ago she wanted to try her hand at making huge glass beads (with 12″ diameters and up) for a public art installation. Michael gently suggested she start by making small glass beads. The result? The couple’s first art collaboration: a memorial for fallen public servants in Casa Grande.
Both are on the board of the Sonoran Glass School, and given her marriage to Michael, Margaret didn’t come to the world of glass without prior knowledge. Blowing glass down at the school gave her a new respect for her husband’s work, she says, and also made her realize she wasn’t interested in blowing.
Today, her set-up with slow cooker, camping stove and aluminum foil debris – could be mistaken for something highly illegal.
The lost wax method is so-called because the original wax model for a shape is burned away or ‘lost’ in the process. Now that she’s got her glass bead process down, Margaret can turn out 25 pieces in two days. Her current work features glass bead lighting, glass beads strung on heavy wire, and a rain chain, with glass beads and cups to collect rain.
Margaret has leased various other studio spaces before now, while Michael has worked from home. Their new partnership comes at an interesting time; they’re childless for the first time, their youngest daughter having just gone to college.
Their marriage, and their shared aesthetics, means they have a sort of shorthand when they’re bouncing ideas off of each other. For Michael, up until now the lone telecommuter of the two, it’s nice to be able to think his ideas through out loud, he says, and ask Margaret’s advice. Still, says Michael: “Renting the studio was a real big commitment on my part.”
Michael got into glass blowing after a friend in Prescott, where he was then living, told him about a glass class there. A month later, he was calling himself a glass blower. He and Margaret, who went to Prescott to attend college there, were friends for some time before getting together (she even went to his first wedding). They moved to Tucson in 1981 so she could attend the University of Arizona (she completed the 5-year degree in four years, despite the surprise of a pregnancy and the birth of Malyn.)
In some ways, the move into fashion shouldn’t be a surprise. Prior to glass blowing, Michael was print making and silk screening. Art was part of his make-up for as long as he can remember. “I’d always been able to draw well [as a child],” he says. “I’m the product of that generation where where they said you can be anything you want to be. Everybody said ‘You’re good’ so I kept drawing.”
His new sketches on glass are a result of a long-time interest in pin-up art. He takes images from the Internet, manipulates them, and then goes through what’s called multi-stage blasting, sandblasting the images, scraping away parts of it for detail and to lose color, and having to tape off sections as he works. “Nobody is doing anything like I’m doing, mainly because it takes so freaking long,” he laughs.
See Michael Joplin’s work at Cast & Cut, a show at the Philabaum Glass Gallery & Studio. It runs February 2 to April 13. The award-winning touring theatre show, One Night With Janis, opens next month at the Pasadena Playhouse in Los Angeles.